The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the termination of the harmful Title 42 expulsion policy on April 1, but immigration advocates are frustrated that the implementation won’t begin until May 23. According to the CDC website, the extra time is meant to implement COVID-19 mitigation protocols, including COVID-19 vaccinations for migrants and preparing for the resumption of regular migration under Title 8, which lists an extensive series of reasons why a person could be deported, including having committed a crime within five years of being admitted into the U.S., violating a protective order, and being found in possession of drugs. It was a welcome announcement for immigration advocates who have been fighting for the end of what they say is a racist policy. But advocates say many questions remain with regards to implementing the end of the policy and, most importantly, that migrants seeking safety cannot wait almost two months for help.
“The announcement to terminate Title 42 is long overdue,” said Haddy Gassama, the UndocuBlack Network’s national director of policy and advocacy. “Organizations such as UndocuBlack and Haitian Bridge Alliance and many others have been pushing for the end of this policy for pretty much the two years since its inception. But, we weren’t able to celebrate immediately because there were so many questions around the implementation of that termination and what it would look like. There’s still quite a bit of advocacy, but it’s certainly a welcomed first step.”
Title 42 is a 76-year-old, World War II-era public health law that allows the CDC to bar certain individuals from entering the U.S. if it fears the spread of diseases or viruses. In March 2020, former President Donald Trump enacted the policy, despite the CDC’s scientists saying there was no evidence it would slow the spread of the coronavirus. Since then, President Joe Biden has continued the illegal policy of denying lawful asylum and turning away the vast majority of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Under the policy, the U.S. has expelled over 1.7 million people at the Southern border without due process, with recidivism rates soaring immediately after the policy was enacted.
Advocates say the policy exposes migrants to violence in Mexico, deprives them of their right to seek lawful asylum, forces them to return to the dangerous and unstable conditions they were trying to flee in the first place, and disproportionately impacts Black and brown migrants. According to Witness at the Border, there have been 175 ICE Air removal flights to Haiti since September 2021, returning around 19,000 Haitian migrants. Since January 2021, there have been 212 ICE Air return flights to Haiti, returning about 21,000 Haitian migrants. As the clock continues to tick until May 23, migrants will continue to be expelled under the policy.
“The harm that Title 42 is inflicting is still happening,” said Ronald Claude, the director of policy and advocacy for Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI). “There is a lot of concern about what is to come and how that is going to negatively impact Black migrants.”
Claude and other advocates are concerned the termination of Title 42 will result in more enforcement of “Remain in Mexico,” another policy that deters migrants and asylum-seekers from safely entering the U.S. “Remain in Mexico,” or “Migrant Protection Protocols,” makes them wait in Mexico during their immigration proceedings.
“We can’t switch one evil for the other,” said Cynthia Garcia, United We Dream’s national campaigns manager for community protection. “We have to continue to build out an infrastructure that advances racial justice in the immigration lens.”
Claude said there should be a community-oriented approach to welcoming migrants into the country that collaborates with advocates for the Black migrant community to create a “fair, just, compassionate, and dignified system that was promised from the onset of this administration and that has not been reciprocated.”
Garcia said the Biden administration should support border community groups that are already supporting migrants by connecting them with health care, secure housing, and the ability to provide for their families.
“Instead of falling for the false choice of increasing the budget for ICE and CBP, or increasing the number of detention centers, we should actually increase funding for community centers, for relief for folks to have access to health care,” Garcia said. “That doesn’t just impact immigrants, it impacts the community at large.”
The news follows the Biden administration’s national messaging that the COVID-19 pandemic is in decline and the public can return to normal life. In March, the breadth of Title 42’s implementation was also limited. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the administration could not send migrants to countries where they would face persecution or torture. Separately, the CDC terminated the policy for unaccompanied minors altogether. Advocates say the termination should apply to all migrants, regardless of demographics, including single adults.
“Prioritizing family units over single adults could result again in disproportionately harming and endangering not only Black migrants, but also migrants who identify as LGBTQ+ who oftentimes present at the southern border as single adults,” Gassama said. “This interim period is one that is very dangerous. We hope that between now and May 23, while the administration is getting their ducks in a row, that there shouldn’t be any expulsion flights.”
Since the CDC made its announcement, Republican lawmakers have been trying to pass a coronavirus relief bill with a Title 42 amendment by the end of this week. Additionally, three Republican-led states (Missouri, Arizona, and Louisiana) have already sued the Biden administration over the decision to lift Title 42.
“We need to be able to push back against that harmful narrative that Republicans are driving,” Garcia said. “We need to continue to push against the fearmongering and lean into the Biden administration to continue to open up the asylum process.”
Until May 23, Claude, Garcia, and Gassama say they want to see the complete end of Title 42 immediately, for the Biden administration to fully restore the asylum system, and to create a process for addressing the millions of migrants who were unjustly deported under the policy.
“This decision is the result of the hard work and fighting of almost two years from Black immigrants rights organizations and local community members,” Gassama said. “But we know the fight is far from over.”